Results Act:

Observations on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Fiscal Year 2000 Performance Plan

RCED-99-187: Published: Jun 7, 1999. Publicly Released: Jul 8, 1999.

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Lawrence J. Dyckman
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) performance plan for fiscal year (FY) 2000, focusing on the extent to which the plan: (1) provides a clear picture of intended performance across the Department; (2) discusses the strategies and resources USDA will use to achieve its goals; and (3) provides confidence that the performance information will be credible.

GAO noted that: (1) USDA's performance plan for FY 2000 should be a somewhat useful tool for decisionmakers; (2) overall, the plan provides a general picture of intended performance across the Department, a general discussion of the strategies and resources the Department will use to achieve performance goals, and limited confidence that its performance information will be credible; (3) USDA's FY 2000 performance plan represents a moderate improvement over the FY 1999 plan in that it indicates some progress in addressing the weaknesses that GAO identified in its assessment of the FY 1999 plan; (4) among the improvements in the FY 2000 plan are: (a) better efforts to identify programs that contribute to similar results; (b) more consistent use of goals and measures that address program results and performance; and (c) improved linkages between program activities and performance goals; (5) USDA's plan still needs improvement in a number of areas, particularly in: (a) identifying strategies to mitigate external factors; (b) describing efforts to verify and validate performance data; and (c) discussing data limitations; (6) for example, the Rural Utilities Service's performance plan lists several performance goals and indicators for the Service's electric program; (7) however, the plan's discussion concerning the verification and validation of data relating to these goals and indicators is limited primarily to stating that: (a) the data are available in records from the Service's automated systems, from the Service's borrower-reported statistics, and from USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS); and (b) the Service has had long experience with its internal data and is highly confident of its accuracy as well as the reliability of ERS' data; (8) the plan does not discuss the basis for its confidence in the data's accuracy and reliability nor how data limitations could adversely affect its ability to assess performance; and (9) furthermore, the plan makes no mention of actions that the Rural Utilities Service will take to compensate for any unavailable or low-quality data.

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